The children of the night, what tuneful tones!

Shouldn’t an alternative version be titled “Alucard”?

In the May 2017 issue of Locus, Stefan Dziemianowicz reviews an alternative (or “lost”) version of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, Dracula.  Published in Iceland(!) in the early 1900s, with the title Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna), it differs from the traditional edition of Dracula published in England in 1897, in ways both small and large.  The post title is the PoD quote better known in English as “Listen to them, the children of the night – what music they make!”  The events in London are compressed into fewer chapters, while a Europe-wide conspiracy of the elites lead by the Count is added.  But, the Icelandic edition boasts an introduction written by Bram Stoker himself for its publication, so it bears some level of authenticity.

For Dracula scholars, then, the question comes what text was the basis for the Icelandic version?  An earlier draft, from which Stoker removed many of the “potboiler” political thriller elements and characters?  Stoker’s wife published the story “Dracula’s Guest” as a chapter edited out of the final draft, but vampire fiction students speculate that it, too, is part of an earlier draft and not the final manuscript.  So, horror fans may take an interest in this (possibly earlier) take on the iconic vampire of modern literature to glean insight into how the Count arose from the fertile ground of Bram Stoker’s imagination to stalk our nights.


Juno, winning the race, pole to pole

NASA’s Juno probe is beginning to return data from its close-up views of Jupiter.  Entering orbit around the gas giant on July 4, 2016, the craft maneuvered into its current pole-to-pole transits on August 27, achieving a low altitude of 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) above the Jovian cloud tops.  Now, NASA has published the first 2 papers based on the data collected on that earliest fly-by.

Looking up Jupiter’s south pole.
Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betty Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

So far, Juno has helped determine that Jupiter’s magnetic field is much less uniform, almost “lumpy”, which could indicate that it is generated much higher than the planetary core and thus subject to the planet’s dynamic atmospheric systems.  Those systems are also coming under scrutiny, with the belts showing differing thicknesses (equatorial belt going down to the surface, while belts at other latitudes dissolve into other structures at depth).

Juno’s orbit swings around Jupiter every 53 days, spends 2 hours in proximity gathering data, and the 6 megabytes of data collected require 1.5 days to download.  “Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused with a fire hose of Jovian science, and there’s always something new,” says Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), the principal investigator for the Juno mission.  Up next is a fly-by of the Great Red Spot on July 11.

In the company of wolves (domesticated)

Like the happy ending, the cover was amended to be less upsetting to canine-friendly readers

In an unseasonably cool May, the Beamers traversed the Lake district of England in November, chasing across the fells and along the dales in the company of two escapees from the horrors of medical experimentation, Rowf and Snitter, the Plague Dogs.  Labeled as such by the sensationalist British press, the two canines try to survive in a wilderness that confuses and yet attracts them, safe from the pains suffered at the hands of the “whitecoats”, humans who are not true masters.  Would the plight and the charm of the two refugees strike a sympathetic note with the hard-nosed Beamers, or would they face an audience as stern and uncaring as the lab chief, Dr. Boycott? Continue reading

Spirited away by the beat

Lars Gotrich of NPR is reporting that Australian music producer Andrei Eremin (aka Ghosting) was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s ghostly story of loss and redemption, Spirited Away, to sample and re-mix the soundtrack.  Looping in a piano track and adding a synthesized beat, Eremin “shades the original [soundtrack] with darker hues that manage to retain its wide-eyed wonder.”

Eremin, pleased with results of his Spirited Away experiment, is now planning to sample and re-mix all of Miyazaki’s films.

The accompanying video gives a foretaste for the entire re-mix project, the Reimaging Miyazaki Mixtape, that will be available on May 12 on Wondercore Island:

The whole is other than the sum of the parts

More than human cover

Richard Powers, at the height of his powers, brings the surreal.

On a pleasantly brisk Spring evening, the Beamers came together to examine the coming together of a science fiction classic, More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon.  Built around his story, “Baby is Three”, it tells of how the next step in human evolution is built around a melding of different, somewhat damaged, individuals into a new, unified identity, Homo Gestalt.  Would the Beamers unite around a single opinion on the book?  Or would we find it too damaged to believe? Continue reading

How can you keep them on the farm?

Inheritance cover

Eating crow is tough enough when they are not acid-based life-forms.

With weather not conducive to raising crops, the Beamers met to discuss Leah Bobet’s novel about life on the farm after the Big Bad has been beaten, An Inheritance of Ashes.  Caught up in the family drama of the Hoffmann sisters and their struggles with missing husband, mysterious stranger, and recurring incursions of little monsters, the Beamers were able to forget the outside chills and concentrate on what really matters: is it science fiction or fantasy?  Continue reading

Snow dwarf and the seven worlds

The biggest news in planetary exploration came out in February when astronomers announced that the TRAPPIST-1 system contained 7 terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets in orbit around their ultra-cool dwarf star, a little less than 40 light-years from Terra Firma.

Named for the telescope that discovered the first 3 worlds in 2015 (the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetIsmals Small Telescope) operated by the University of Liege, Belgium, the system ultimately owes its name to another Belgian source of pride, the strong ales brewed by Trappist monks, some of which was used in celebration over the discovery.

Seven big maybe-blue marbles, rolling around a tiny sun the size of Jupiter.  Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has an interest as well, with the Spitzer Space Telescope providing the evidence for the latest 4 TRAPPIST planets.  In recognition, the Exoplanet Travel Bureau has prepared a tourist poster to get people excited about a visit to TRAPPIST-1.  And a short visit can still last “years”. With orbits ranging from 1.5 to 18.5 days, the years really fly by in the TRAPPIST system.

Island-hopping in Hawai’i, or planet-hopping in TRAPPIST-1. Decisions, decisions! Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Great god, Pan!

NASA’s Cassini probe, enjoying its last few orbits of Saturn, has been deployed to intercept many of the ringed planet’s orbital features at close range.  On March 7, it came close to the “shepherd” moon, Pan, and revealed its unusual shape.

Some saucers do fly in outer space. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Pan has a large bulge (technically, an equatorial accretion disk) from the ring particles that it “sweeps up” in its orbit, removing enough material to make a distinctive opening in the bright A ring, called Enke’s Gap (or, earlier, Division).  Named in honor of astronomer Johann Enke, who did not actually observe it, it was theorized by the 1980s to be home to a moonlet that was gravitationally knocking out ring particles, a theory that was confirmed in 1990 through study of Voyager 2’s 1981 photos of the ring.

Though tiny in the photo, the Enke Gap is 330 km. (200 mi.) across. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But none of the original discovery team, looking at Voyager’s “dot”, would have guessed that the moonlet was a space-based ravioli.

Take a lot of sauce to coat this “saucer”.

Growing oceans in the shadow of the magnetic balloon

Matt Williams on the Universal Science website has reported that a NASA study of terraforming Mars presented at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop suggests that a major factor in restoring an atmosphere and, eventually, oceans, could be an inflatable, magnetic-field generating structure placed at the Lagrange L1 point, gravitationally balanced on the line between Mars and the Sun.

It may be full of hot air, but it is a serious proposal to get us to walk around on Mars.

It may be full of hot air, but it is a serious proposal to get us to walk around on Mars.

By deflecting the Solar wind and Solar radiation, the magnetic dipole shield would stop the stripping away of the Martian atmosphere, which is replenished by volcanic outgassing.  In consequence, the atmosphere would thicken and trigger a warming of the planet, possibly as much as 4 degrees C. (~7 degrees F.).  That round of warming could be enough to melt the frozen carbon dioxide at the northern Martian pole, further warming Mars and leading to melting of the polar water ice.  As much as 1/7th of Mars’s original oceans may thus return.

A shielded, warmed Mars with a thickened atmosphere and free-standing water would be much easier for humans to explore and, eventually, to take up residence.  And the entire process may be accomplished in a matter of decades, putting in range of the lifetimes of many of us.

The full presentation, given by Jim Green, Director of the workshop sponsor, NASA’s Planetary Science Division, is available on-line: A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration.


Pass the dice and the channel changer!

Damn, I needed that "Get Off Eros for Free" card!

Damn, I needed that “Get Off Eros for Free” card!  Photo: Syfy Channel

Ty Franck and Dan Abraham’s popular space opera series, The Expanse, is about to come full circle, from game to book to TV show, and now back to game.  In a well-detailed interview with the authors, Andrew Liptak, writing on the Barnes & Noble blog site, tells of how Ty Franck, a successful entrepreneur, was inspired by Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, to dream of a mid-future Solar System with various planetary factions being infiltrated by an alien virus.  Played as an on-line role-playing game, Franck’s scenario featured the crew of a water hauler, the Rocinante, getting pulled into the intrigue and the conflicts.

Meanwhile, when Franck’s wife enrolled at the University of New Mexico, he joined a local writer’s group, Critical Mass, and began running a role-playing game for some of its members, including George R.R. Martin.  Martin’s assistant, Dan Abraham, was also interested and joined Franck’s space opera game as down-and-out detective named Miller.  No wonder that Abraham wrote the Miller chapters when they decided to collaborate on a novel set in The Expanse universe.

And the TV show stayed faithful to Franck’s original game vision.  On a visit to the set, two of the original players remarked that the spaceship and colonized asteroid interiors looked almost exactly as they imagined the rooms and spaces to look when they were playing Franck’s game almost 10 years earlier.

Now, Beth Elderkin on io9 reports that WizKids, best known for their collectible superhero miniatures games HeroClix, is preparing to create a 2-4 player card-driven strategy game where players vie for domination of the Solar System as Earth, Mars, the Outer Planets Alliance, or everyone’s favorite mega-corp, Protogen.  Come June (and go $50), The Expanse can be spread out on every fan’s gaming table in addition to being on their televisions and computer monitors.

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